Introducing Transportation on Messenger

Messenger is your place to communicate seamlessly with everyone – from making plans with friends, sharing pictures and moments with your loved ones, sending money, and talking to your favorite businesses about a purchase or getting updates on your item’s delivery. Millions of people all over the world use Messenger every month to engage with businesses because it’s simple, secure, convenient and keeps everything in one place.

Technology can make all of our engagements with businesses better, and over the past year Messenger has added integrations with select retailers, household brands and hotels to make your most common and every day business interactions more productive.

Today, we’re expanding the services available to you with our launch of transportation on Messenger. With this new feature, you can request a ride from a car service without ever needing to download an extra app or leave a conversation. It’s super easy and doesn’t take you away from the plans that you’re making with your friends or family.

Whether you’re meeting friends for lunch, on your way to a concert, or running late for work, Messenger and our partners can get you to your destination faster.

To get started, download the latest version of Messenger. Then, from within a conversation, tap the more menu and choose Transportation. You can also search directly for Uber – our first partner – and tap the car icon to request a ride. From there, you’ll receive updates on your driver’s status and notify your friends that you’ve called a ride. With the ability to request, track and pay for a ride in Messenger, we’re making transportation as simple as sending a message.

messenger-uber-request-ride

Your first ride is free

For a limited time, you’ll get a free ride the first time you use this feature (up to $20 value) with Uber. All you have to do to claim your free ride is link your existing Uber account or set up a new account within Messenger and request a ride. Driver status updates and payment receipts will get delivered to a private conversation between you and Uber. With everything in one place, you can seamlessly keep track of your ride and payment history.

The fine print

This service is currently in testing and will be available to select users in the locations where Uber operates in the United States. More countries and other transportation partners will be available soon.

Messenger Adds New Features For Sharing During the Holidays

hero-safe-messenger-holiday-2015

In preparation for the coming weeks as many of us spend lots of time with friends and family, Messenger is rolling out some new features to make it easy for you to surprise and delight those you love.

Introducing Photo Magic

Today we are making Photo Magic, which has been in testing for the last month, available to more people. Feedback has been great, and we are looking forward to making it easier to share more photos, especially this time of year. Photo sharing in Messenger is growing at a fast rate. In fact, more than 9.5 billion photos are sent in Messenger each month alone. But there is still a lot of friction in sending the photos you take to your friends who are in them. Now in Messenger, after you take a picture of a friend or group of friends, if you want to, we’ll help you send it immediately. You won’t need to stop the fun to make sure everyone has a copy of the picture. Photo Magic will help you keep your promise to send the pictures you take without forgetting, or worse, leaving someone out. Also, we know there are times when you want to share photos privately, and Photo Magic makes it effortless to do so while still keeping you in complete control. So at a time of the year when more photos are taken than any other (last year Messenger saw hundreds of millions of photo sends on New Year’s Eve), we’re making it simple for you to share those happy moments.

Here’s How It Works

By recognizing your Facebook friends in the photos you take (just like when tagging or sharing photos on Facebook), Messenger can create a group thread for you to share the photos with those friends in just two taps. It’s fast, easy, and simple. And you can turn this feature on or off at anytime as well as control if you are recognized in your friends’ photos in the timeline and tagging section of your Facebook settings. Check it out here:

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  • Make sure the feature is enabled (you can do this by going into your “Settings” menu in Messenger, but you’ll also be prompted to try Photo Magic – you can say “Try It” or choose to “X” it out)
  • Once you take a photo with your friends, you’ll get a reminder to send the photo to them (the photo will not be sent unless you tap Send)
  • If you choose not to share the photo, hit “Cancel”

Messenger Just Got Way More Customized

In addition to making it easier to send photos, we are rolling out new fun ways to customize your conversations with different people and groups. With various color choices, emoji and nicknames, now you can really make Messenger your own space. For iOS, tap on the people’s names at the top of a conversation to change your family group thread to a festive red, update your mom’s formal first and last name to just “Mom,” or change the emoji response in your holiday meet up group from the thumbs up to something more timely, like a party hat. For Android, tap the info button in the top right. Anyone in the conversation can change the colors, nicknames and emojis as many times as they want, and when you make a change, the people you’re talking to will see what updates you selected.

newsroom-2-customization

Let It Snow…

We’re constantly thinking about ways to surprise and delight you and your friends. And now for the holidays, we’re bringing the prettiest snowflakes to your messages. Whether you are in Alaska or Australia, you can share some winter fun, even if your current weather status isn’t set to North Pole. Send a Santa, Christmas tree or snow-related sticker or emoji to a friend and watch the magic happen; it’s just like being inside your own snow globe.
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We’re also bringing back the beloved snow globe effect for chat heads on Android. For a limited time this season, your friends’ chat heads will appear as winter wonderlands (if you’re north of the Equator, of course). Similarly, to celebrate the new year later on, your friends’ chat heads will become confetti-filled.

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And speaking of snow – check out our Frozen sticker pack if you’re feeling frosty. But if Frozen isn’t for you, we didn’t want to forget our new Star Wars pack that just went live last week! May the Frozen Force Be With You.

We hope you enjoy using these new features this holiday season and into the new year. From everyone on the Messenger team, happy holidays.

Facebook’s quick-loading Instant Articles come to Android

facebook instant articles

Facebook’s scheme for speedy news stories has finally come to Android. With select publishers you’ll now see a lightning bolt icon in the top corner, which denotes that article is stored on Facebook’s servers and will load rapidly.

This feature, as is often the case, first debuted on the iPhone.

Bringing this to Android is as much about global reach as platform parity. That’s because international markets, especially those in the developing world, see heavy use of low-cost Android phones.

facebook instant articles android

Why this matters: By bringing this feature to Android, Facebook can strengthen its case to publishers that they should store their content on Facebook’s servers. While it’s a much better reading experience, some content providers have wondered if it’s worth giving Facebook this much control. It will be telling if more publishers jump on board, or if some decide the platform doesn’t give their sites enough advantages or traffic.

FACEBOOK OPEN-SOURCES THE COMPUTERS BEHIND ITS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Taking powerful artificial intelligence software and making it open source, so anyone in the world can use it, seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, but both Google and Microsoft have done exactly that in recent months. Now Facebook is going a step further and opening up its powerful AI computerhardware designs to the world.

It’s a big move, because while software platforms can certain make AI research easier, more replicable, and more shareable, the whole process is nearly impossible without powerful computers.

Today, Facebook announced that it is open sourcing the designs of its servers — which it claims run twice as fast as before. The new design, called Big Sur, calls for eight high-powered graphics processing units, or GPUs, amongst the other traditional parts of the computer like the central processing unit, or CPU, hard drive, and motherboard. But Facebook says that the new GPUs especially allow its researchers to work with double the size and speed of their machine learning models.

Why it matters

Regularly working with images or audio takes can be taxing for consumer-grade equipment, and some types of artificial intelligence have to break down and learn from 10 million pictures in order to learn from them. The process, called training, requires serious computing power.

First, let’s establish some basics— the underbelly of A.I. can be a daunting and complex. Artificial intelligence is an umbrella term for a number of approaches towards creating an artificial system that mimics human thought and reasoning. There have been many approaches to this; right now the most popular methods are different kinds of artificial neural networks for deep learning. These networks have to be trained, or shown examples, before they can output information. To have the computer learn what a cat is, you need you show it potentially millions of pictures of cats (although Facebook’s methods have dramatically reduced that number). The neural networks are virtual clusters of mathematical units that can individually process small pieces of information, like pixels, and when brought together and layered can tackle infinitely more complex tasks.

This means that millions of photos or phrases or bits of audio need to be broken down and looked at by potentially millions of artificial neurons, on different levels of abstraction. If we’re looking at the parts of the traditional computer that are candidates for this job, we’re given two options: the processor (CPU) or the graphics processor unit (GPU).

The difference between CPU and GPU

The CPU, the main “brain” of the modern computer, is great for working on a few general computing tasks. It has relatively few cores (4-8 in consumer computers and phones), but each core has a deeper cache memory for working on one thing for more times. It taps the computer’s random access memory (RAM) for data needed in its processes.

The GPU is the opposite. A single server-oriented GPU can have thousands of cores with little memory, optimized for executing tiny, repeated tasks (like rendering graphics). Getting back to artificial intelligence, the multitude of cores in a GPU allow more computations to be run in at the same time, speeding up the whole endeavor. CPUs used to be the go-to for this kind of heavy processing, but large-scale projects required vast fleets of networks chips, more than if computed with GPUs, according to Serkan Piantino, Engineering Director of Facebook’s A.I. Research.

“The benefit that GPUs offer is sheer density of computation in one place,” Piantino said. “At the moment, GPUs are the best for a lot of the networks we care about.”

Facebook says Big Sur works with a wide range of GPUs from different manufacturers, but they’re specifically using a recently released model from Nvidia, which has been pitching their products heavily towards artificial intelligence research. In their tests of CPU vs GPU performance for image training, dual 10-core Ivy Bridge CPUs (read: very fast) processed 256 images in 2 minutes 17 seconds. One of their server-oriented K40 GPUs processed the same images in just 28.5 seconds. And the newer model that Facebook uses in Big Sur, Nvidia’s M40, is actually faster.

Many Nvidia devices also come with the Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) platform, that allows developers to write native code like C or C++ directly to the GPU, to orchestrate the cores in parallel with greater precision. CUDA is a staple at many A.I. research centers, like Facebook, Microsoft, and Baidu.

Replicating the human brain?

The GPU is the workhorse of modern A.I., but a few researchers think that the status quo of computing isn’t the answer. Federally-funded DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) partnered with IBM in 2013 on the SyNapse program, with a goal to create a new breed of computer chip that learns naturally—the very act of receiving inputs would teach the hardware. The outcome was TrueNorth: a “neuromorphic” chip announced in 2014.

TrueNorth is made of 5.4 billion transistors, which are structured into 1 million artificial neurons. The artificial neurons build 256 million artificial synapses, which pass information along from neuron to neuron when data is received. The data travels through neurons, creating patterns that can be translated into usable information for the network.

In Europe, a team of researchers is working on a project called FACETS, or Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States. Their chip has 200,000 neurons, but 50 million synaptic connections. IBM and the FACETS team have built their chips to be scalable, meaning able to work in parallel to vastly increase compute power. This year IBM clustered 48 TrueNorth chips to build a 48 million neuron network, and MIT Technology Review reports that FACETS hopes to achieve a billion neurons with ten trillion synapses.

Even with that number, we’re still far from recreating the human brain, which consists of 86 billion neurons and could contain 100 trillion synapses. (IBM has hit this 100 trillion number in previous TrueNorth trials, but the chip ran 1542 times slower than real-time, and took a 96-rack supercomputer.)

Alex Nugent, the founder of Knowm and DARPA SyNapse alum, is trying to bring the future of computing with a special breed of memristors, which he says would replace the CPU, GPU, and RAM that run on transistors.

The memristor has been a unicorn of the tech industry since 1971, when computer scientist Leon Chua first proposed the theory as “The Missing Circuit Element.” Theoretically, a memristor serves as a replacement to a traditional transistor, the building block of the modern computer.

A transistor can exist in two states (on or off). Oversimplified, a computer is nothing but a vast array of transistors fluctuating between on and off. A memristor uses electrical current to change the resistance of metal, which gives greater flexibility in these values. Instead of two states like a transistor, a memristor can theoretically have four or six, multiplying the complexity of information an array of memristors could hold.

Biological efficiency

Nugent worked with hardware developer Kris Campbell from Boise State University to actually create a specific chip that works with what he calls AHaH (Anti-Hebbian and Hebbian) learning. This method uses memristors to mimic chains of neurons in the brain. The ability of the memristors to change their resistance based on applied voltage in bidirectional steps is very similar to the way neurons transmit their own minuscule electric charge, says Nugent. This allows them to adapt as they use. Since their resistance acts as a natural memory, memristors would break what some researchers call the von Neumann bottleneck, data processing cap created when data is transferred between the processor and RAM.

“AHaH computing says ‘Let’s take this building block and build up from it,’” Nugent said in an interview with Popular Science. “By basically exploiting these ’neurons,’ connecting them up in different ways and pairing their outputs in different ways, you can do learning operations.”

This is how Nugent sees this work being not only applicable to general computing, but specifically oriented towards machine learning.

“As soon as you take the density that we can already achieve today, you pair that with memristors, you pair it with a theory that enables us to use it, you stack the chips in three dimensions, you end up with biological efficiency,” Nugent said. “What you end up with is intelligent technology.”

FACEBOOK MESSENGER NOW LETS YOU ORDER RIDES FROM UBER

Many took issue with Facebook spinning Facebook Messenger off into its own separate mobile app, but today’s inclusion might ease the transition. The social network king announced today Uber integration directly within Messenger. Simply share an address, tap on it and select Request a Ride.

Riders get their first Uber free when ordering via Messenger (up to $20), for new Uber users and existing. Uber newbies can register within Messenger.

Many apps in 2015 continue to look for ways to prevent users from leaving the app, in hopes of being the one-stop-shop for any and all needs. Snapchat’s Discover section, for example, offers news and video clips so users remain updated on the world while staying within Snapchat’s borders. We’ve seen Facebook’s Messenger platform used to handle purchases previously with Everlane and customer service with Hyatt.

Facebook’s decision to include third-party application functionality may not stop at Uber. We could see this functionality expanded to Lyft, Gett and other car-summoning apps. Facebook could also perhaps expand Messenger to include mobile apps that allow users to order items, buy tickets or check on their smart home devices. Programs like WeChat in China have shown the power of natural language apps within a messaging app.

While crowning one mobile application as the one to rule them all may take a while, there is something to be said for only having to master one interface. And having that interface work for you instead of jumping through hoops–getting an address, switching apps, and pasting it into Uber, for instance.

For now, the capability is limited to American users, but we expect it to expand worldwide wherever Facebook and Uber operate, eventually. As Facebook said in a press statement: “This service is currently in testing and will be available to select users in the locations where Uber operates in the United States. More countries and other transportation partners will be available soon.”

With companies like Google looking to provide competition in the taxi space with their autonomous vehicles, having Uber being everywhere and easy to use will continue to be a priority for the company. The ability to quickly convert shared addresses to hailed cabs will only give smartphone owners more reasons to use the service. Along with Facebook expanding this service, we may see Uber look to be part of more services as well.

This is why some people change their Facebook names

Facebook avatar

The site can refuse to allow people to change their names and insists people don’t use fake names unless in the most “unusual circumstances”.

Last year a group of drag queens in San Francisco had their accounts deleted because they were deemed to be violating the policy.

“People need to feel safe and be confident they know who they are communicating with,” says Facebook.

“When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say

“However, after hearing feedback from our community, we recognise that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.”

The social media site has begun a trial of the new rules – for American users to begin with.

But why do people want to change their names on Facebook in the first place?

Newsbeat hears from four people.

The teacher

Facebook post reading: I personally change my fake name every now and then because our students are very good at finding teachers on Facebook. Most teachers use a fake name or only part of their name.

The police officer

Facebook post reading: My partner and I are both police officers and don't use our real names as we can be targeted by people we come into contact with at work. This has happened to people within our force so the majority of officers do this now.

The businesswoman

Facebook post reading: I work in advertising and I changed my name on Facebook because a client turned up to a meeting with some embarrassing photos of me at university. Since then I don't mix business with pleasure.

‘Robbie Williams’

Facebook post reading: I had to change my name on Facebook because people thought I was impersonating Robbie Williams but that's actually my real name.

Facebook enters transport business with Uber

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The new service means Messenger users will be able to ask for an Uber vehicle without leaving the Facebook software.

Users will not need to download the Uber app separately.

“Uber on Messenger” began in parts of the US this week, the two firms said.

The companies announced their new venture via separate blogs.

Facebook has some 1.5 billion users globally and Uber is the world’s biggest driver-hailing app in terms of financing.

New venture

Facebook Messenger

If successful, the partnership between the firms will give Uber access to many new and potential clients – Facebook’s Messenger app has some 700 million users worldwide.

“With the ability to request, view, and pay for an Uber ride in Messenger, taking your next ride is as simple as sending a message,” Uber said on its news blog.

“You can request a ride from a car service without ever needing to download an extra app or leave a conversation,” Facebook explained.

The social media giant said the new transportation function on its Messenger app was part of its ongoing development.

“More countries and other transportation partners will be available soon,” it added.

‘Super easy’

The headquarters of Uber in San Francisco

Facebook also said the service would be “super easy”.

“Driver status updates and payment receipts will get delivered to a private conversation between you and Uber,” the firm explained.

“With everything in one place, you can seamlessly keep track of your ride and payment history.”

Uber and Facebook said they would offer users their first ride for free – for a trip worth up to $20 (£13.37). Facebook said the offer would be in place for a limited time.

In April, the social media giant removed its instant messaging service from its main mobile app and said users would have to download the Messenger app in order to send and receive messages on their smartphones.

San Francisco-based Uber was founded six years ago. It has operations in about 60 countries but has faced opposition in various parts of the world.

Earlier this year, Facebook bought the messaging service WhatsApp for $19bn (£11bn).

Facebook’s new campaign asks India users to ‘save’ Free Basics

Facebook, Facebook Free Basics, Facebook Free basics campaign, Facebook campaign save free basics, Facebook #NetNeutrality, #netneutrality, Net Neutrality in India, SaveTheInternet, Internet in India, technology, technology news

Facebook has launched a new campaign on its site asking India users to save its ‘Free Basics’ platform by signing an email to TRAI. Free Basics was formerly known as the Internet.org but has faced criticism in India as many argue that it is in violation of Net Neutrality principles.

In its campaign letter, Facebook says that “Free Basics is a first step to connecting 1 billion Indians to the opportunities online – and achieving digital equality in India. But without your support, it could be banned in a matter of weeks.”

The letter is written in response to TRAI’s recent paper which questions whether zero-rating plans and apps could be in violation of regulatory and anti-discriminatory principles. It should be noted that the TRAI paper does not mention Net Neutrality as such.

TRAI’s consultation paper titled, “Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing for Data Services,” raises concerns over zero-rating platforms being offering by TSPs in particular. The paper asks for comments on whether such differential pricing should be allowed. Stakeholders are expected to post their comments for the paper by December 30 and counter-comments are to be submitted by January 7. The paper says that while zero-rating might help accelerate the rate of Internet access in the country, there are several negative effects that might ensue and that these plans may go against the principle of non-discriminatory tariff. The regulator says that such tariffs put small content providers at a disadvantage and “creates entry barriers and non-level playing field for these players stifling innovation.” These are arguments that Net Neutrality activists have also put against zero-rating platforms by TSPs. Facebook’s response to TRAI paper: Free Basics non-exclusive, open to all The paper also gives suggestions as to how such practices can be curbed and says that if free Internet access is ‘delinked’ from specific content, then it would be better. Facebook’s Free Basics platform, which is available for Reliance subscribers across the country, is a zero-rating platform, which could run into trouble if TRAI recommends that zero-rating plans as anti-competitive. Facebook’s Kevin Martin, Vice President, Mobile and Global Access Policy, had said in an earlier statement, regarding TRAI’s latest paper, “We are committed to working with TRAI to uphold the principles of affordable and innovative internet access for India in a fair and consistent manner. During the consultation process, we hope the focus is on the issues that matter most.” His statement defended Free Basics and says that the data shows that the app is helping more people come online “by serving as a bridge to the full, paid internet.”

Slap a lightsaber on your Facebook profile to celebrate Star Wars

In case you haven’t noticed, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens worldwide this week. You may have stumbled across a few product tie-ins over the last month or so, like some hairyChewbacca Crocs and a Darth Vader lightsaber selfie stick. Maybe you went to Facebook and told all your buddies, “No spoilers!” and unfriended anybody who defied you. But Facebook isn’t a safe haven. Suddenly, people are sporting a shimmering lightsaber across their profile pictures.

Facebook has a history of offering up profile photo changes, whether it’s adding a crown to your pic in recognition of Kansas City’s World Series baseball win or supporting a cause like marriage equality by switching to a pride image. Star Wars is now on the list of ways to customize your profile picture.

There are two Star Wars lightsaber options, neither of which is very subtle. The first option is to have Kylo Ren’s controversial red lightsaber with the two little lightsabers for a crossguard. The energy emanates from it and it just looks angry. The second is a cool-blue lightsaber like Finn packs in the new film. Pick whichever one you think complements your profile photo the best. I went Kylo Ren.

I can’t say my altered profile pic is really that great. It looks like Kylo Ren is standing offscreen, taking my picture while refusing to put down his weapon.

You may see an option to change your profile picture in your timeline or through a post on one of the Star Wars Facebook fan pages. Another way to get to the right place is to visitFacebook’s Game Face profile changer tool and then select “Star Wars” from the drop-down menu.

One of the nicer features of the photo customization tool is that you can choose how long to run the altered image. Choose from 1 hour, one day, one week or “never” — never stop, that is. There’s no reason you can’t keep a lightsaber on your profile all the way until the second new Star Wars movie comes out.

Facebook is relaxing its real-name policy

A framed Facebook logo, filled with employees' signatures, hangs in the lobby of the company's Palo Alto, Calif., building in June 2009.

Until now, you had to use your “authentic” name on Facebook. That’s no longer the case.

The world’s largest social network said it is relaxing its rules for how people identify themselves, allowing them to more easily use the name “people know them by.” In addition, the service said it would make it harder for harassers to ask Facebook to disable users’ accounts.

“We recognize that it’s also important that this policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalized or face discrimination,” two Facebook employees wrote in a blog post announcing the moves Tuesday.

Facebook said it has changed its systems to be more forgiving about uncommon names, hoping to reduce the number of people who have to verify with Facebook who they are. The company also said it will allow users to verify their information with a wider variety of documents beyond typical governmental IDs. They will also be able to explain why they aren’t using their legal name, if Facebook asks. “This additional information will help our review teams better understand the situation so they can provide more personalized support,” the company said.

The move will be particularly welcome by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, which have criticized Facebook for its rigid rules requiring users to identify themselves by their real names. The company, which counts more than 1.5 billion people using its service each month, has defended the rule, saying that when people are forced to use their real name on the Internet it adds weight and authenticity to what they’re saying. Other, smaller, social networks like Twitter and Reddit don’t require users to identify themselves with their real names.

The debate hit a tipping point last year, when gay rights activists said their Facebook accounts were being deactivated, seemingly as a result of a coordinated campaign by detractors who reported them under Facebook’s naming policies.